We've all known for some time that Aldon Smith was a beast in the pass rush. After a slow start to the season, Smith has run off his 13 sacks over the last 11 games. He has been given some pass coverage opportunities on occasion, but for the most part he spends his time blowing through offensive linemen and scoring handfuls of sacks.
I would imagine as each week passes and more film becomes available, teams become less and less surprised by what Aldon Smith brings to the table. He has benefited to a certain extent from Justin Smith occupying multiple blockers at times as Vic Fangio discussed a bit (transcript after the jump). And yet, there is no denying his raw athleticism that allows him to have his way with offensive linemen.
Steve Young has a weekly call-in show on KNBR and he discussed how he had not seen Aldon Smith in person prior to Monday Night Football. He explained how there were differences in hearing about a player's skills, watching it on television and seeing it in person. He described it as the various visceral relationships one has with something.
Do you think this could impact the 49ers pass rush with teams considering more double teams when Aldon Smith is on the field? I would think teams have noticed him before this and would be game-planning against him already. And yet, it seems like he still gets a lot of one-on-one opportunities. Could this open the door for Ray McDonald or the other defensive end in the nickel (Brooks or Haralson, depending on what side Smith is located) to potentially get some better pressure?
Defensive Coordinator Vic Fangio
Press Conference - December 21, 2011
San Francisco 49ers
Yesterday, head coach Jim Harbaugh made a pitch for QB Alex Smith for the Pro Bowl. If you were pick one of your guys that maybe isn't on the top of the public consciousness, who would you pitch for the Pro Bowl?
"All of them, almost all of them."
OK, which ones wouldn't you pitch?
"I'm not going there."
Is DT Justin Smith, is he sort of, because he does things under the radar in terms of media and things like that, do you think he's a well-known commodity around the country?
"Not as much as he should be. And I can use myself as an example there. I knew Justin Smith was a good player, but until I got here and actually was involved in coaching him and seeing him play from day to day, game to game, he's better than my perception was. So, and I think he's probably having his best year that he's ever had. And I don't have the background to say that because I wasn't here all those years, but the people that have been are saying that."
What makes him so tough?
"Well number one he's a talented player. He's got great talent. And two, he's tenacious, and loves to play the game of football the right way. So, you combine talent, tenacity and a love of the game, that's what you get."
When they talk about him being a high-motor guy, what does that mean to you exactly?
"He's always playing hard. He's hustling all the time. That play that he made against Philadelphia where he knocked the ball out, that's not a one-time thing. He had one of those in the game the other night against Pittsburgh where he tackled the guy when the guy broke out. So, that happens constantly and consistently with him."
How does he affect LB Aldon Smith and Smith's sack total?
"I think he's had a good effect on him, just from a work ethic and toughness standpoint. And those guys have done a good job running some games over there, which part of that is Justin's experience. And I think they've worked well together. They've kind of had a good relationship of big brother/little brother and I think Aldon has been able to elevate his game because he's seen how much toughness and tenacity enters into this equation."
What do you mean by running some games over there?
They loop under each other?
"Yeah, one way or the other."
Is that sort of a pick your poison type thing for the left side of an offensive line to have to figure out if they want to double team Justin Smith or Aldon Smith then the other guy's going to get free?
"Not necessarily. It all goes into the blocking scheme they have called at that time. Sometimes the center works to [DT] Ray McDonald just as much as he works to Justin Smith."
You talked about not knowing yourself how good of a player Justin Smith was. At what point did it dawn on you he was much better than your perception? Was it training camp? Was there a game? Was there a play?
"Just the whole process, really. Ultimately you have to see it in games because that's pay day, the games. So, and he's done it in the games, but I've seen it right from the get-go in training camp."
Vic, when you look at Aldon Smith's development and as quick as it's been, what's different about him now than three-four months ago? What has allowed him to acclimate so quickly?
"He's learned how to be a more complete pass rusher. In college, he got away with just being an athletic, finesse-type pass rusher and had his success that way. He had to learn to incorporate more technique into his game and power into his game, and have a mix of power and finesse and athleticism. It took him a while to totally integrate the power into his pass rush."
And now that he's done that, how good-some objective analysts on ESPN and I were talking about how great he can be going forward. How good do you think he can be going forward?
"Time will tell. If he stays humble and hungry, he'll be good. He'll be really good."
Do you think he surprises people with his inside rush and with his strength? I mean, people probably look at him, he's tall, he's skinny, they think of him as a speed rusher outside. Do you think he surprises people with his ability to move inside?
"A little bit, probably."
Looking ahead to Seattle with RB Marshawn Lynch, and congratulations on your NFL record by the way, 14 straight games, but you've got a real test this week with Marshawn Lynch. Talk about him as a back and how tough he is.
"We just got done watching a run cut-up tape with the defense as a whole, and it's an impressive tape right now. He's running extremely hard. He's running angry. He's running with purpose. He's fighting for every inch that he can get. He's got the ability to be a powerful inside runner, but yet bounces it outside. He's got a good stiff arm and he scored 11 rushing touchdowns this year. So, he's probably going to be our biggest test from a running back in a while."
You mentioned how hard he's running. Does he look like a different running back from what you've seen in the past?
"No, because I've always been impressed with him. I can remember when I was in Baltimore, we were getting ready to play Buffalo when he was there, and I told [Former Ravens defensive coordinator] Rex [Ryan], I said, this guy's the best back I've seen in a while. And Rex just said, ‘Don't worry about it.' And then about halfway through the game, Rex tells me on the phone, ‘You were right.' So, I've had a lot of respect for this guy since he came into the league."
Vic, your linebackers were beaten by tight ends on wheel routs a couple of times on Monday night, was that an issue of play calling, scheme, or execution?
"More execution than anything else."
Aldon was obviously brought in specifically to rush the passer. How valuable is that, how essential is that in today's game to have?
"Well, it's a passing league. In that game the other night, it was a tight game for most of the game, yet they threw it 51 times, dropped back 51 times. So, it's a passing league by and large and part of pass defense is rush, not just coverage."
Were you impressed how LB Larry Grant did in the passing aspect of the game?
"Yeah, Larry's come in and done a nice job right from the get-go. [LB] Patrick's [Willis] basically missed the last three games and Larry's done a good job and I have been very pleased with his play."
How do you reward or acknowledge these guys after they get all the turnovers that they're producing? Do you do something like in the meetings, or on film, just to kind of keep them motivated and acknowledge what they're doing?
"Just highlight why we got it, what was involved with it then use it as positive reinforcement."
Has there been a common theme in all of the turnovers when you highlight why you got it?
"Not really. Like I said, we've got good players who are playing with good technique. When they're playing hard, good things happen."